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The government crisis in Bulgaria and what may lie ahead

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Like a bolt from the blue, the news that one of the four coalition partners was withdrawing from the government came as a surprise to most people in the country. The signs of looming danger were there to be seen by all, yet no one could have suspected that it could have occurred to any of the four coalition partners to ditch the coalition at this particular time, when the update of the state budget is to be voted. Out of nowhere, just as a severe economic crisis is gathering speed in the country, the leader of the party There Is Such a People (ITN), Slavi Trifonov announced he was withdrawing the cabinet ministers from his party and putting an end to the “coalition in its agony”. As his reasons, Trifonov cited disagreement on the question of North Macedonia*, and the fact that the country has run out of money.

But before Trifonov got around to making his announcement, three of the cabinet ministers from his party, ITN, walked out of a Council of Ministers meeting over the “extremely bad budget”, presented by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Assen Vassilev (from We Continue the Change, the engine of the government coalition).

Prime Minister Kiril Petkov’s reaction was not late in coming – he openly accused Minister of Regional Development Grozdan Karadjov of demanding an increase in the budget for road construction and repairs by another EUR 1.8 billion, in addition to the EUR 1.1 billion already approved. This money, the Prime Minister said, was meant to find its way to the very same companies that have been part of the hitherto existing corruption schemes.

The blame game that ensued demonstrated, in a very clear way, that any reconciliation is highly unlikely.Some experts have described the step taken by Slavi Trifonov as an attempt to boost the approval rating of his party, ITN, so it will be better positioned at the next elections for parliament. But whether there will be early elections for parliament is debatable, especially after Kiril Petkov announced his intention of going on with a minority government, indirectly calling for the support of the MPs from Slavi Trifonov’s ITN party with “the same mindset” as the people from his own party (the coalition needs the support of at least 12 more MPs for a majority in parliament).

“Today is watershed day, you may be on the side of corruption, on the side of the mafia, on the side of the people using public resources so as to put them in their own pocket, or we could have a principled position, where every Lev is accountable to the people this money comes from, because this is not the state’s money, this money belongs to all of us,” PM Kiril Petkov said at an extraordinary briefing after Slavi Trifonov made his announcement.

Who the 12 MPs who will support a minority government will be remains shrouded in mystery, because ITN are adamant there are no such people in their midst. But what about the MPs from GERB party, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) and Vazrazhdane? The dividing lines between them and We Continue the Change seem to run far too deep for there to be any chance that they may be overcome. From the very beginning, We Continue the Change were adamant that they would not enter into coalition with GERB or MRF. That leaves only Vazrazhdane, but the conditions the nationalist Eurosceptic party has been setting down of late for their participation in a coalition and support for the government are absolutely unacceptable, politically, for Kiril Petkov and his cabinet.

After the coalition council, which took place last night, and the support for PM Kiril Petkov, expressed by the two remaining coalition partners – the Bulgarian Socialist Party and Democratic Bulgaria – the storm seems to be abating. The question now remains – who is going to be foreign minister, minister of regional development, and minister of sport, the positions hitherto occupied by ministers from ITN? Actually, who the country’s foreign minister will be is an important point, because it is not clear whether he or she will continue with the position upheld by ITN’s Foreign Minister Teodora Genchovska with regard to North Macedonia. And one more thing that is not at all clear – who the 12 MPs will be that will, hypothetically, give their support to a future “minority government”.

* According to Slavi Trifonov, Kiril Petkov’s policy towards North Macedonia differs from that of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, parliament and the policy declared at the presidential consultative council. He says that the Prime Minister has promised the leaders of Europe and the world to lift the veto on the start of North Macedonia’s EU accession negotiations, even though the predominant opinion in this country is that North Macedonia should only start negotiations after it has implemented the 2017 goodneighbour agreement between the two countries. This means, Slavi Trifonov is saying, that he is grossly violating the coalition agreement, which gives him cause to put an end to it.

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